The future of music

AI piano lets disabled players master Beethoven

December 23, 2023
ai piano
Source: The Verge

Key takeaways

  • Usami was one of three disabled musicians who played Symphony No. 9 on Thursday at Suntory Hall with the Yokohama Sinfonietta, utilizing an AI-powered piano.
  • Her instructors collaborated with Japanese music giant Yamaha because of her commitment to practicing with just one finger.
  • Their partnership produced an updated version of Yamaha’s self-playing piano, which was made available in 2015.

The scoop

Kiwa Usami, 24, performs Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” — complete with orchestra and choir — by pressing just one index finger to the piano in the auditorium of one of Tokyo’s most renowned concert halls.

Usami, who has cerebral palsy, was one of three disabled musicians who played Symphony No. 9 on Thursday at Suntory Hall with the Yokohama Sinfonietta, utilizing an AI-powered piano. The “Anybody’s Piano” tracks the notes of the song and enhances the performance by adding any keys that are needed but not pressed to help players.

Usami inspired the AI program significantly; she began playing the piano in elementary school. Her instructors collaborated with Japanese music giant Yamaha because of her commitment to practicing with just one finger.

Their partnership produced an updated version of Yamaha’s self-playing piano, made available in 2015. The inaugural Christmas concert took place on Thursday.

After a Wednesday rehearsal, 10-year-old Yurina Furukawa told AFP, “It’s a compelling experience to play with an orchestra.”

Furukawa is a rare muscle condition sufferer who needs breathing assistance due to congenital myopathy; the “Anybody’s Piano” allowed him to perform from a bed that was placed in front of the grand piano.

She moved her left arm in time with the performance and then used the back of her right hand to forcefully press the keys while the AI-assisted piano filled in the rest of the notes.

In contrast to conventional auto-play, “Anybody’s Piano” halts if a player presses the incorrect notes. Performer Hiroko Higashino, 39, said,

“I feel the pressure from the piano to go on and press the right key when I miss a key or slow down.”

Higashino learned to play the piano only after the announcement of the “Anybody’s Symphony No. 9” concert program. Higashino was born with three fingers on her right hand.

“If the piano helps me and adds two missing keys for me, I can more faithfully recreate the rich harmony, the music that Beethoven intended to express,” she said.

Members of the 130-person audience described the Christmas performance as uplifting. “I haven’t had such a heart-trembling experience like this for a long time,” said Teruko Imai, a concertgoer in her 60s.

“It was the best Christmas present for me.” Another attendee, Koki Kato, 16, said she was “so touched”. “The piano makes it possible for anybody to perform, which is a perfect thing for music too.”

Yamaha launched an AI-assisted piano in 2019

The news of a group of musicians performing Beethoven as assisted by an AI piano might come off as a novel invention. It is no surprise because when Yamaha launched its AI-assisted piano in 2019, Artificial Intelligence was not as popular as it is now. 2023 can be well described as the year of Artificial Intelligence. 

But some of the brightest and most enthralling AI tools gathering attention have always been in the dark, blurred by the trendiest elements of those periods.

Yamaha’s piano system can play any piece of music in the style of the late pianist Glenn Gould. It debuted at the Ars Electronica festival in Linz, Austria. The system, backed by three members of the Bruckner Orchestra Linz, performed a solo and a duet with pianist Francesco Tristano at the festival.

The system consists of a player piano and AI software that uses sheet music data and deep learning technology to play any piece in the Gould style.

Additionally, it has Yamaha’s unique AI Music Ensemble technology which enables the computer to analyze and perform alongside human pianists.

“To bring artificial intelligence into connection with music should not end in a competition, but should be the beginning of a discussion that searches to improve us and to expand and improve our virtuoso actions,” comments Martin Honzik, senior director of Ars Electronica Festival, Prix and Exhibitions divisions.

According to Koichi Morita, senior general manager of Yamaha’s research and development division, these AI initiatives aim to push “the boundaries of musical creativity.”

Five years later, an AI Piano allows disabled players to perform Beethoven to a crowd in Tokyo. In ten years, artificial intelligence might be used to save the lives of many from several terminal health issues that seem pretty incurable now. 

Tobi Opeyemi Amure

Tobi started as a crypto writer in 2017 and became a key crypto news editor and SEO specialist at Watcher Guru in 2021, significantly boosting their traffic. He enjoys Afrobeats, R&B, and Soul music in his spare time.

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